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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter, August 2006

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Toothfish 3500t – Birds 0

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross in flight. Photo by Jamie Watts

It is another remarkable result. The Toothfish fishing season ended at the end of August with almost all the Total Allowed Catch (TAC) successfully caught and not one bird mortality recorded.

Awareness of the dangers to Albatross and other seabirds due to interactions with fishing vessels has increased around the world in recent times. The South Georgia Fishery has, for a number of years now, been showing the way forward.

The reduction of seabird mortality is achieved by limiting the longline fishing season to the winter, when there are fewer birds feeding in the South Georgia area. Also each ship has to comply to a raft of measures to further reduce interaction. These include: weighting fishing lines so they sink quickly; deploying bird scaring devices when setting and hauling lines; and discarding offal away from the fish hauling area.

Ten longliners have fished during the four month long season which started at the beginning of May. Each vessel has had a Fisheries Observer aboard for the whole time it was fishing.

 

New Commissioner

Alan Huckle

 

Alan Huckle was sworn in as Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and Governor of the Falkland Islands, at a ceremony in Stanley, Falklands, on August 28th.

He has just come from a posting as Governor of Anguilla, and has experience of working with issues relating to South Georgia and the Falkland regions from his previous position as the Head of the Overseas Territories Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Commissioner Alan Huckle during the swearing in ceremony in Stanley. Photo by Harriet Hall

Mr Huckle is accompanied by his wife Helen and will reside at Government House in Stanley. He hopes to visit South Georgia as soon as possible.

 

Major Earthquake

South Georgia was the closest inhabited place to the second major earthquake to hit the South Sandwich Islands area this year.

The earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, occurred in the early hours of August 20th. The closest land was Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands; about 390km east of the epicentre, and the closest human population at KEP was over 580km north-northwest.

Only about 17 earthquakes of this magnitude and above occur around the world in any year. This one was at a depth of about 10km and the alerting authority, the U.S. Geological Survey, were quick to point out there was no tsunami risk as the earthquake involved two plates moving horizontally, not the vertical action associated with tsunami formation.

Dale Grant, a geophysicist for the National Earthquake Information Centre in Colorado, USA, was quoted as saying “It’s just out in the middle of nowhere…not near anything. A few fish might have gotten woken up but there will be no damage. We are very lucky.”

The other major earthquake in the area was in January this year (see the January newsletter in the archive) and was centred well to the east of the South Sandwich Islands.

 

“HMS Chatham” Visits

HMS Chatham

HMS Chatham" at anchor in Cumberland Bay.

“HMS Chatham”, a type 22 frigate, spent time patrolling in South Georgia waters this month. The ship had aboard a party of the Resident Infantry Company from the Falkland Island Garrison to patrol areas on shore.

“HMS Chatham” called at the British Antarctic Survey(BAS) Research Station at Bird Island, landing mail and some very welcome fresh food for the over-winterers there. A lucky few ships personnel, including the Commanding Officer, were shown around the base and up to some of the Wandering Albatross nests studied there.

The ship anchored in Cumberland Bay East and over two days most of the crew were able to stretch their legs on shore, though the deep snow everywhere made longer walks difficult.

Five of the BAS personnel from KEP were able to join the ship as it sailed down the coast and into Drygalski Fjord.

HMS Chatham

 

Bird Island team

Sarah and Charlotte took the Post Office aboard the ship   The Bird Island team receive welcome mail from the Captain of HMS Chatham. Crown Copyright

 

Fishing News

The remaining toothfish longliners have been completing their TACs this month, with only two ships left at the end of the season. Once finished, the ships went to the Falkland Islands to have their catches weighed and verified. The GSGSSI staff in Stanley have had a busy time helping to oversee this process.

Longliner “Viking Bay” called into KE Cove on August 3rd to collect rocks off the beach to use as weights on the fishing lines. Longliner “San Aspiring” also visited later in the month to drop off some live Toothfish for the KEP scientists (see below) and to visit the South Georgia Museum.

On August 8th “Betanzos”, a trawler registered in Chile, arrived for inspection and licensing to fish for Icefish.

On August 17th a trawler, the Polish registered “Dalmor II”, had to wait in Cumberland Bay for a few hours for a storm to abate enough for the Harbour Patrol Launch to be able to take the Government Officer out to inspect and license her to fish for Krill. The larger krill trawler came at the same time to tranship to the reefer “Eurostar”, and was back again on August 25th to drop off logbooks having completed fishing.

 

Outgoing Commissioner Howard Pearce Says Goodbye

Howard Pearce

Commissioner Howard Pearce and family leaving the Public Jetty in Stanley. Photo by Harriet Hall

The outgoing Commissioner Howard Pearce and his family said farewell in a leaving ceremony in Stanley on August 5th.

After ceremonially handing over the Falkland Island Governor’s sword of office, he and his wife Caroline, and their baby daughter Suzanna, boarded a launch at the Public Jetty which took them to the FPV “Dorada”. The ship took the departing family to Mare Harbour, near Mount Pleasant Airport, for the flight out.

Commissioner Pearce met and married Caroline, and they had their daughter, during his tenure.

The Falkland newspaper Penguin News conducted a long interview with Commissioner Pearce before he left. Two of the questions put to him were specific to South Georgia.

Asked what the highlights of his job as Commissioner had been, he said the South Georgia Government has become more active over the years, managing three international fisheries, and he was pleased that the toothfish fishery had secured certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. The other things he mentioned were: the clean up at Grytviken; the recent revision of the SG Environmental Management Plan; the establishment of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, which will shortly be taking over the management of the South Georgia Museum; and the decision to restore hydro power to Grytviken.

With tourism in South Georgia growing, Penguin News asked the Commissioner if South Georgia is becoming too accessible? Commissioner Pearce said that it is a wonderful place and good that people have the opportunity to see it, but we have reached a point where we have to continue to ask that question, we have to manage tourism in a way that doesn’t actually damage what people are coming to see.

Harriet Hall stood in as Acting Commissioner during the few days between the departure of Howard Pearce and the arrival of the new Commissioner Alan Huckle.

The South Georgia section of the Penguin News article is printed in full below.

 

Bird Island News

Freshwater Beach

 

Freshwater Beach

Freshwater Beach in early August, the shores are pink with krill.   Freshwater Beach by late August, with a Leopard Seal resting on the frozen bay.

Report by Helen Taylor who is a vet and one of the resident scientists at th British Antarctic Survey base on Bird Island.

August has brought with it many surprises, the first being an incredible wash-in of tonnes of Krill onto the south facing beaches of the island. Banks of up to 60cms of Krill formed in the tidal zone, with the sea turning a thick red in many places but providing a once in a lifetime winter feast for the local wildlife. Seals, Giant Petrels, South Georgia Pintail ducks and Kelp Gulls have all enjoyed the abundance of food, with even some Humpback Whales spotted from the cliffs – a very unusual sighting for this time of year as they are normally found in the much warmer waters off Brazil.

The second treat came with the arrival of the “HMS Chatham”, bearing much awaited post and fresh fruit and vegetables – a welcome relief as our own stocks had been used and we were reliant on powdered potatoes and dried onions. The Captain and a select few crewmembers came ashore for a short tour of the island and its wildlife, these being the first new faces we had seen since April. All had a thoroughly enjoyable day and it was a real pleasure to show such enthusiastic and friendly people this very special part of South Georgia.

After a disappointingly snow-free start to the winter, we have at last been rewarded with some perfect snow conditions and are enjoying the skiing and snowboarding that the island can offer. The cold temperatures have also encouraged the Leopard Seals to visit our shores and are regularly seen cruising the bays for prey using the brash and pancake ice as cover.

Now that the Wandering Albatross chicks have reached adult body size, they are concentrating all of their growth on those vital wings that will carry them on the long journeys across thousands of miles of open water in a couple of months time. The chicks can now regularly be seen stretching out and having a few practice flaps as they begin to learn how to control their rapidly feathering wings.

leopard Seals

 

wanderer chick

Three leopard Seals together in the brash ice   A wanderer chick shows off his rapidly growing wings. All 4 photos by Helen Taylor

 

Live Toothfish Delivered to KEP Scientists

toothfish

 

The two Fisheries Observers aboard longliner “San Aspiring” kept five spawning Toothfish alive and delivered them to the scientists at the KEP. Toothfish spawn in late July and August. Little or nothing is known of the very early stages of the Toothfish lifecycle.

 

The live toothfish are carried to the Temperature Controlled Facility by Sarah Jamie and Observer Andrew Bayne.

Previous attempts have been made to get fertilised toothfish eggs, and keep them alive in the temperature-controlled facility at KEP, so the early stages of egg and fish larval development can be studied, but with no success so far. It is hoped that by keeping the fish alive until they are milked for eggs and milt to be mixed in the lab, chances of success will be higher. The five fish were between 80 and 120cm long, so probably around 8 to 10 years old. It will be a while before the scientists know if they have been successful. For now the eggs are being kept in circulating water, and are checked every few days for signs of cell development.

Toothfish usually spawn on the continental shelf at depths of 800-1200 metres. The Observers also delivered live crabs for continued studies into growth rates and moulting cycles. One juvenile crab brought in may be a new species.

 

009: Licensed to Krill

krill pond

 

krill pond

The net is emptied into the krill pond below deck.   The krill pond.

krill

 

krill

One, two and three year old krill.   Like looking for a needle in a haystack. A larval fish amongst all the krill. All photos by Jamie Watts.

Jamie Watts, one of the scientists from KEP, recently went out on a Japanese krill vessel as an Observer, filling the gap until another Observer could be brought in to take over. He worked on the 100-metre long krill trawler for two and half weeks and seems to have enjoyed the experience.

79 men work on the ship, a mixture of Japanese, Indonesians and Chileans. The ship trawls 24 hours a day, and, as it has been a bumper krill year, the net was filling up after only ten minutes in the water. They could catch more than they do, but are limited by the amount of krill the ship can process. The hold of the ship fills up every ten days or so, with 3000 tonnes of krill……about 6 billion individual animals!

There is probably around half a billion tonnes of Krill in the Southern Ocean at any one time, a vast amount and by far earth’s biggest single-species animal mass. The krill fishery is probably one of the only fisheries on earth that is underfished.

Krill gathers together in huge swarms, which are easily seen, on the ships sounder, and the Fishing Master will plot the ships course so the net is dropped into the densest part of the swarm. One swarm fished whilst Jamie was aboard was more than 30 kilometres long.

Such a concentration of potential food attracts many other animals to the same spot. Small petrels, prions and seagulls lie in the ships wake pecking up Krill from the surface. Fur Seals plunge through the water chasing the krill, and of course whales are there too.

Before he left to board the ship Jamie was delighted when his CCAMLR number came through….“009”. Okay so it wasn’t “007”, but the pun was right there “009 - licensed to krill”.

One of the jobs of an Observer is to look out for “by-catch”, to make sure the trawl warps are not entangling and killing birds, and that seals are not getting into the net. Luckily some simple measures can be used to prevent these problems. A slanting large mesh net hangs right across the front of the trawl so seals cannot get deep into the net where they may drown. Any seals chasing Krill in front of the net are directed up and out of the way through “windows” in the net at the top.

The factory below is a cramped obstacle course of steel, hoses, conveyor belts, sorting tables and machines. To get anywhere Jamie had to move around large chunks of machinery, on a mesh and plate floor that kept him out of the constant sloshing of water from a hundred machines rinsing the Krill. The roof was low and there were trays and conveyors of Krill going in every direction. Its almost impossible at first to tell what does what or goes where, but it obviously works well. The Krill is processed into three different products: some is minced and dried as krill meal; some is peeled and cooked for sashimi; and some is frozen whole. The Krill intended for human consumption has to be peeled as the shells contain toxic levels of fluoride.
The Observer ages and sexes samples of the catch. Krill can live up to ten years in captivity and are thought to live to about 6 or 7 years in the wild. Most of the Krill Jamie was seeing were between one and three years old, their length determines their age. He used a microscope to sex around 200 animals from the sample each day.

The Observer also looks for another form of by-catch, small fish that may be caught amongst the Krill. Jamie describes it as like looking for a needle in a haystack. He used a sorting table to sift through bucketfuls of Krill looking for small semi-transparent fish larvae, amongst literally tens of thousands of small semi-transparent Krill.

You would think that after sifting through Krill all day you would not be all that keen to see it on your plate, but it was served up at almost every meal in one form or another. The food aboard was good, Jamie said, a mix of Japanese and Chilean dishes, which he opted to eat with chopsticks. He was presented with a variety of small bowls of food for main meals and he didn’t always know what he was eating! He learnt the hard way though to tell the difference between the hugely hot wasabi horseradish paste and avocado. The two look very similar, but there is a considerable difference when you take a mouthful!

 

South Georgia Snippets

A spring-like feel set in on sunnier days this month, but they were few, with many a stormy blizzardy day in between. So much snow accumulate from roof falls that windows had to be dug out to let daylight back in.

 

Pat digs out the front windows of Carse House.


 

Carse House

Return of the Sun

 

On a well-picked day the belated “Return of the Sun” barbecue was held by the boatshed on August 10th. With temperatures still well below zero the welcome sun warmed well-clad lunchers as they lounged in garden chairs in the snow.

 

The “Return of the Sun” barbeque.

“Prion”, one of the harbour launch jet boats is filling the boatshed whilst it undergoes a bi-annual service. The conditions in the harbour have at times been challenging, with thick ice forcing the boats to become icebreakers, the drivers had to repeatedly back them up, then ram them forward to break the ice. Large bits of brash ice formed a formidable barrier across the Cove entrance, which stopped a ship coming in to the jetty on August 23rd.

Two notable storms, with winds gusting about 115km/hr, caused minor damage to buildings at KEP. A heavy half-meter square steel blanking plate from one of the Discovery House chimneys blew off, landing ten metres away.

Tim, Ady and Jamie were dropped at Sorling Valley on the second attempt. The boats had to turn back the first time due to strong winds and rough water in the Bay beyond Dartmouth Point. Once they did get there, they pulled gear-laden sledges on the long day-ski over to St Andrews Bay to see the King Penguin colony in winter. They were not too disappointed to have to stay an extra day at St Andrews, as again they had to turn back on their first attempt when the weather closed in making route finding difficult.

Martony, Ady and Will also managed a few days away skiing on the Greene Peninsula.

Four of the five KEPers who travelled with HMS Chatham also got a ride in the Lynx helicopter. Some of those watching from on shore were glad not to be in the aircraft when it hovered high over KE Cove and then dived suddenly, in what must have been a stomach-wrenching manoeuvre. They came back with huge smiles!

The end of August can see the first of the big bull Elephant Seals back, but though one was seen up briefly on the coast near Gun Hut on the 31st, this year it will be September before the first beach-baggers are really seen.

The Chiloe Wigeon duck first seen last month is still in the KE Cove area.

Several people have skied across to Maiviken on day trips to watch the spectacle of thousands of Gentoo Penguins landing on the beach to roost overnight around the lakes and hills behind.

The crew of the longliner “Viking Bay” must have watched the most remarkable wildlife interaction of the month. They reported watching Killer Whales kill a Sperm Whale only a short distance from their ship.

Gentoo Penguins

Gentoo Penguins have been coming up in their thousands at Maiviken. Photo by Patrick Lurcock

 

Penguin News Interview: Howard Pearce

The Penguin News South Georgia questions to outgoing Commissioner Howard Pearce.

With kind permission of the Falkland Island newspaper “Penguin News”, here are the two South Georgia questions put to outgoing Commissioner Howard Pearce, and his responses in full. They were originally printed in Penguin News July 28th.

PN: Your position as Commissioner of South Georgia is another important role you play here; what have been the highlights for you in this job?

HP: Quite a lot of things. South Georgia Government has over the years become more active.

We have three international fisheries to manage and here I must pay tribute to Harriet Hall, the Director of Fisheries, who has done a first class job at quite a difficult time.

The fact the toothfish fishery in South Georgia - a valuable and important fishery - has secured certification from the Marine Stewardship Council while I've been here is a major achievement, something I'm very pleased about. The credit for that has to go to Harriet and her predecessor, Russ Jarvis. That is an international certificate of the quality of the management of the fishery. For South Georgia Government that's quite a feather in our cap.

Another very important development has been the clean up at Grytviken. The whaling station there had, as indeed have all the whaling stations at South Georgia, deteriorated and nasty substances, particularly asbestos, had been exposed to the air. It ceased to be acceptable for people to be living and working adjacent to the whaling station with the increasing risks involved.
We have now completed that clean up at Grytviken, we've done quite a lot of demolition to make the place safe, it's now more accessible to visitors and we have paid for that entirely out of South Georgia Government funds.

We have also revised the Environmental Management Plan, a key document for the way we go about managing the South Georgia environment and the new version of that plan is now being published. I'm very pleased we've done that.

We have seen the tourist industry growing; the number of cruise ships increased, we had a record number last year of 49 and an increasing number of yachts as well.

PN: Is the island becoming too accessible?

HP: I think we've reached a point where we have to continue to ask that question. We may have reached a level where perhaps we don't want to increase it too much more although we haven't put any formal limit yet on the number of ships which come.

It is a wonderful place and it's good that people have the opportunity to see it but we have to manage tourism in a way that doesn't actually damage what people are coming to see. I think at the moment we're OK but it's very important that we continue to monitor those issues.

Another development I've been delighted with has been the establishment of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, the first organisation to be established which offers the potential of being a channel for commercial and private funds to be donated to the benefit of the South Georgia environment. I think it has tremendous potential.

Very shortly it will be taking over the management of the South Georgia Museum so we will be combining the Museum Trust with the Heritage Trust.
We are also fully refurbishing the Museum buildings - that will be completed next season - and we've put the Museum finances on a much firmer footing by donating 10% of our income from tourist landing fees to the Museum.

We have started a project to eradicate rats from South Georgia. This is extremely ambitious, I don't know whether it's achievable but certainly the experts say it may prove to be. Money is going to be very important; the South Georgia Heritage Trust is interested in supporting this project.

It's going to be expensive and will take many years but if we achieve it, it will be very significant for the South Georgia environment.

Finally, we have taken the decision to restore hydro power to Grytviken and King Edward Point. The first stage of that project will be undertaken during this coming summer. It will almost eliminate expenditure on diesel for generators and it will restore hydro power which was, of course, the way the Norwegian whalers powered the station when it was in operation. That's also a very exciting project and I think it will make South Georgia one of the greenest places in the world.

I'm delighted that we've been able to do so much and the credit must go to Harriet Hall, Gordon Liddle and Richard McKee as well as Pat and Sarah Lurcock in South Georgia.

I would also like to pay tribute to Tim and Pauline Carr who have done a tremendous job in developing the Museum and who will be leaving SG in November this year. We shall miss them enormously.

 

View of the Month

Check out the View of the Month on the South Georgia Heritage website.

 

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